'The Girl is in Trouble': Film Review

The Girl is in Trouble Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Entertainment One

The Girl is in Trouble Still - H 2015

Vivid atmospherics and stylistic ambition aren't enough to make this convoluted tale compelling.

A Lower East Side DJ finds trouble in the form of a beautiful femme fatale in this modern-day noir thriller.

From its hard-boiled narration, to its beautiful femme fatale, to its vintage-sounding title, to its ridiculously convoluted plot, Julius Onah's debut feature thoroughly traffics in familiar film-noir conventions. Unfortunately, despite displaying an admirable stylistic ambitiousness and excellent use of its NYC Lower East Side locations, The Girl is in Trouble never manages to feel like more than a strained, modern-day pastiche. With the biggest name involved being executive producer Spike Lee, the film isn't likely to attract much of an audience with its simultaneous theatrical and VOD release.

Columbus Short plays the central role of August, a bartender/wannabe DJ, who, like many of his cinematic predecessors, finds himself embroiled in far more than he bargained for when he hooks up with Signe (Alicja Bachleda), a beautiful Swedish woman he met once casually, who shows up at his door one fateful night. The two quickly tumble into bed, but it soon becomes clear that sex wasn't all she was looking for.

When he discovers a video of a murder on her cell phone, it leads to the inevitable series of complicated plot machinations, here related in a time-twisting chronology. The victim turns out to be the criminal brother of August's hotheaded friend Angel (Wilmer Valderrama), a long way from That '70s Show), who was involved with a drug-dealing yuppie (Jesse Spencer).

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The screenplay co-written by Onah and Mayuran Tiruchelvam certainly features some inventive touches, such as August's illustrated lecture about the history of immigration to New York City. The plot certainly keeps us guessing throughout, but one thing is clearly early on: Signe is not so much a girl in trouble as one who is trouble.

Among the colorful supporting characters are a downtown party girl played by Paz de la Huerta, who provides one of the more amusing moments when, being questioned about what she knows about the situation, she delivers an explanation including the fact that she's "not so into anal anymore."

"You don't hold back on the details, do you?" her interrogator comments.

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With Lee's influence reflected by such aspects as the vivid depiction of its milieu's multicultural scene and more than one aping of his signature moving sidewalk-style shot, the film clearly aspires to something more than a traditional thriller. But neither the rote story nor the stock characterizations are enough to sustain interest, and the intrusive voiceover narration by the lead character ultimately comes to feel like parody.

Although several of the performances are effective — most notably Valderrama's intense tough guy who's solicitous towards his elderly grandmother (Miriam Colon) and Bachleda's sexy siren, The Girl is in Trouble, much like its titular character, is never quite convincing.

Production: Deerjen Films, Toy Closet Films
Cast: Columbus Short, Wilmver Valderrama, Alicja Bachleda, Paz de la Huerta, Jesse Spencer
Director: Julius Onah
Screenwriters: Julius Onah, Mayuran Tiruchelvam
Producers: Julius Onah, Robert Profusek, Ryan Silbert, Jen Gatien, Dana Offenbach, Mark Campbell
Executive producers: Spike Lee, Rui Costa Reiss, Jonathan Bird, Daniel Reznick
Director of photography: Rick Lopez
Production designer: Chris Trujillo
Editor: Sabine Hoffmann
Costume designer: Sarah Mae Burton
Composer: Gregg Lehrmann
Casting: Sig de Miguel, Stephen Vincent

Not rated, 90 min.